A Hanoi court Thursday found Hoang guilty of “violating regulations on management and use of state assets, causing loss and waste.”
Hoang, 67, did not show up at the court for the sentencing because of health problems. He was present through the four-day trial.
Phan Chi Dung, former head of the Light Industry Department at the ministry got nine years for the same charges.
The defendants’ violations involved mismanagement of a land plot of 6,000 square meters in downtown HCMC. The plot, estimated to be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, has become private property after several illegal transfers.
The wrongdoings were unearthed in November 2018 when authorities were investigating former vice chairman of the HCMC People’s Committee, Nguyen Huu Tin.
According to the investigators, Ho Thi Kim Thoa, as former deputy minister, knew in 2016 that the land plot on Hai Ba Trung Street in District 1 was arranged to be assigned to Vietnam’s largest brewery Sabeco, under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, for it to invest and build a six-star hotel and convention center.
While both Thoa and Hoang knew that Sabeco was not allowed to establish a new entity to use the land allotted to it, she got the former minister to permit the establishment of the Sabeco Pearl Company.
Based on Hoang’s approval and Thoa’s direction, Phan Dang Tuat, board chairman and head of the state capital management board at Sabeco, signed a letter to the HCMC People’s Committee, requesting approval for Sabeco Pearl to own the project.
He also asked HCMC authorities to let Sabeco Pearl perform financial obligations and for Sabeco to transfer its land use right to the newly formed joint venture.
Thoa took advantage of the government’s capital divestment policy and under Hoang’s direction, signed two documents for Sabeco to divest its 26 percent stake in Sabeco Pearl and approved a starting auction price of VND13,347 ($0.58) a share. Hoang also directed the divestment procedure and auction price approval to be expedited.
These actions led officials at departments of HCMC People’s Committee to advise the city’s former vice chairman Nguyen Huu Tin to approve lease of the prime land to Sabeco Pearl in contravention of regulations, leading to the land becoming a private property.
The Me Linh Square Investment Joint Stock Company, which used to be Sabeco Pearl, a wholly private company, is currently the owner of the plot.
Inspectors concluded that the actions of Hoang, Thoa and their accomplices have cost the exchequer more than VND2.7 trillion ($117.18 million).
Hoang was the industry minister from 2007 to 2016 under Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s cabinet.
Throughout the trial, Hoang only admitted his responsibility as the head of the industry ministry, saying that the main responsibility is this case was that of Thoa and Sabeco as Thoa was the direct manager of the firm when the violations took place.
Thoa is absconding, having fled the country.
The court also handed out sentences for eight others in the case. These are former municipal officials who were also found guilty of violating land management regulations.
Nguyen Huu Tin got 6.5 years; Lam Nguyen Khoi, former director of the Department of Planning and Investment, 4.5 years; Dao Anh Kiet, former director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, five years; and Le Van Thanh, former head of the city’s office, four years.
The violations of the defendants were particularly serious, the court said. They had high professional qualifications and management experience, yet committed illegal acts for a long time, intentionally violating regulations on state property, causing serious consequences, it added.
The court also ruled that the land plot on Hai Ba Trung Street will be transferred to the city administration.
Of four other defendants, officials of agencies under the municipal departments, three were given jail terms of 3-3.5 years each and one received a 30-month probation.